The Economist, Britian’s venerable and well-respected newsmagazine, reports on Bristol Virginia’s BVU and its FTTH project. Long-time readers will recall Bristol, Virginia: claims that BVU was a failure were a regular and regularly ugly feature of the fiber fight here (summary). The truth was that Bristol was very successful, the first municipal utility to offer the triple play, and has done extremely well for its community. The Economist points this out, emphasizing the rural nature of the location and the jobs it brought to its Appalachian corner of Virginia.
It’s satisfying to see Bristol being recognized as an economic success by the Economist.
It’s also a treat to read the Economist—the weekly news magazine is known for its unusual combination of tight, fact-filled language and light-hearted tone. The reader is encouraged to read through the article for themselves just to reassure themselves that it really can be done. The following is offered up as an example of clean reasoning that will resonate with Lafayette readers:
Should cities be in the business of providing fast internet access? It depends on whether the internet is an investment or a product. BVU could not afford to maintain its fibre backbone without selling the internet to consumers. And it could not build a subscriber base without offering cable television and a telephone line as well; households these days expect a single price for all three services…. Fibre is expensive, and a purely commercial business would not have been minded to pay for it.
All this is true for much of rural America, and it is an analogue of the reason why municipal utility companies were launched in the first place: to electrify thinly-populated areas where commercial utilities would not go.
(via Christopher Mitchell @ Muninetworks.org)
The fiber to the home projects in Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia are going great guns according to an article in the newspaper there. The Virginia project got going first and helped its sister city just across the border get started (it has extended its service regionally as well). The good news is that both projects, in a struggling area of Appalachia are signing up more customers than they had planned for and are are considerably ahead of their original business plan. About Tennessee:
Bristol Tennessee Essential Services has added far more customers in its first 18 months than projected, said Chief Executive Officer Mike Browder…
“Our cable and Internet is still growing,” Browder said. “At the end of March, we surpassed the two-year projection of our business plan.”
“We’ve blown away our original business plan,” she said. “Our original projections were 35 percent of the market – as an over-builder – was good and 45 percent was outstanding. We’re at 65 percent.”
The projects, and their cities, are getting great publicity. Finally. They deserve it. Bristol has been used and abused by the incumbents across the nation. A group of corporate officers and a few well-funded “think tanks” have portrayed the project as an abysmal failure that revealed the incompetence of municipal utilities in general and Bristol’s officials in particular. Since “everyone knows” that government is inefficient and can’t compete too many accepted their claims at face value. It turns out that it was all a crock-a crock that was designed to serve as a PR tool for the incumbent corporations. BellSouth and Cox certianly trotted out those falsehoods here in Louisiana.
Folks who followed the intricacies of The Fight for Fiber in Lafayette will recall Bristol, Va–again and again the supposed failures of Bristol’s fiber to the home project were used to imply that LUS’ project would fail. (You know, Appalachians, Southerners, Cajuns & Creoles…) Trouble was, Bristol’s project was doing, and is doing, great. It was all strategic lies and misinformation.
A partial list of the falsehoods spread about Bristol by anti-fiber partisans in Lafyette:
- 8/04: Right out of the gate at the so-called “Academic” Broadband Forum Bristol was held up to ridicule and “supporting” documents distributed to the press and the crowd that mislead the people of Lafayette about the true story of Bristol’s network. Mike, in one of the earliest entries on this site, methodically pulled the incumbnet argument apart–and presciently argued that showing disrespect for the citizens of Lafayette by peddling such stuff would boomerang on Cox and BellSouth.
- 10/04: A Cox mailer to Lafayette’s “Important Leaders” contained the same sorts of misleading assertions concerning Bristol as the general public was treated to two months earlier.
- 7/05: Stephen Titch, a writer of paid advertorials, published in the Advertiser an essay that compared the Bristol and LUS projects–unfavorably for both. An earlier version of the report the essay was based on had been submitted to the State Bond Commission. That document was funded by the incumbents and was originally designed to support their position that LUS should not be able to issue its bonds. (The commission found otherwise.)
- 7/05: At the CODA debate between Fenstemaker (pro fiber) and Breakfield (anti) Breakfield repeats false or misleading claims about Bristol and other public utilities, claiming disastrous losses. Don Bertrand and Fenstemaker point out that any capital intensive business won’t make money while it is in the investment phase–even if it is meeting or exceeding its business plan.
- 7/05: On the eve of the election Fiber 411 distributes a mass mailer prominently featuring a dishonestly manipulated quote from Bristol’s hometown newspaper—a qoute that inverts the real meaning of the paragraph from which it was drawn in a transparent attempt to make the people of Lafayette think the project had failed when, in fact, it was beating its business plan.
- 4/06: Even after their referendum loss Cox continued to push tall tales about Bristol. A letter to the editor over the signature of Sharon Kleinpeter tied increases in Brisol’s utility rates to that city’s fiber project. However, the local paper there had documented that their increases had nothing to do with the fiber project.
Bristol has earned its day in the sun.
Kevin Blanchard over at the Advocate published a story this morning on the selection process for an engineer for Lafayette’s fiber to the home project. The essentials:
LUS Director Terry Huval said the firm will design every aspect of the network, from the overhead and underground lines to the connections at the main facility and end users.
In addition, the firm will help LUS define the bid specifications to be followed by prospective contractors. After construction begins, the engineers will help monitor construction, Huval said.
A professional services committee will take LUS’s review of the applicants (there were thirteen) and choose three to pass on to Mayor Durel for his selection. The work load on the committee should be light: LUS says that only three of the applicants have the proper work history to qualify them for the job making winnowing down the list pretty straightforward. LUS also has a favorite: the Atlantic Engineering Group.
Atlantic Engineering is arguably the nation’s premier Fiber To The Home (FTTH) engineering and construction group and is certainly the leading such company in the South. Their projects map reveals that they’ve been involved in many of the largest—and most successful—FTTH projects in the nation. Those who have followed Lafayette’s progress closely will recognize Provo, UT (whose mayor has visited in support) and Bristol, VA (the city regularly maligned by Lafayette’s opponents where the current issue is beefing up the system to accommodate unanticipated levels of success). Regular readers will note that Kutztown, PA, the little town that could (1, 2) is also a client.
The CEO, James Salter, has clearly focused the company on municipal operations and is a fiber warrior in his own right having been president of the Fiber To The Home Council and a regular speaker at conferences where municipal fiber could be defended. I saw him present at the Freedom To Connect conference in ‘06 and wasn’t distracted by his “aw shucks” folksy Southern persona. Like sugar-coating on a bitter pill that persona did allow his message on the necessity of dense, municipal fiber to any robust local broadband network go down a little easier with a crowd enamored of “public-private” wifi networks. In the end he received a standing ovation. A later hallway conversation revealed that Salter was just as savvy about the way that the private incumbents blocked such projects and made it clear that he understood how to deal with such obstructionism.
AEG would make a fine choice. Things proceed apace…